Sunday, 30 March 2014

sunday synopsis: new york edition

(be prepared, this is a long one!)

new york, new york; so good they named it twice, ey? so, what did i do, where did i go, what did i see? they're the general questions you're asked after having visited the big apple. throughout my five days there, i attended a design conference with my university where designers such as stephen doyle, paula scher and chip kidd spoke (which in parts was rather inspiring, it's always exciting to hear these people's viewpoints, processes and struggles before 'making it',) visited razorfish's new york studio where a couple of employees spoke to us about working for the company, and when we were finally left free to roam new york for a couple of days alone, i visited times square, fifth avenue, central park, grand central station, the highline the new york public library and the rockefeller centre, with trips to notorious new york food outlets such as chipotle, shake shack and starbucks slotted in between. 

but, what does that all matter? when people ask me about how my trip to new york was, those things really don't come into the overall equation. sure, grand central was pretty grand, rockefeller delivered the views of the city that i expected, and fifth avenue was certainly full of a lot of overpriced crap that i definitely could not afford, but what i find myself coming back to was how the place made me feel overall.

when we landed in new york, we were faced with american customs, and although i'd been warned about the chaps on the border not being all too welcoming, i wasn't prepared for the hostility and down right rudeness that stood before me: five minutes in the country and i was already ready to come home. this hostility and could-care-lessness continued when we got to the hotel and set about finding something to eat around times square, with shop employees shouting at a group of us until we scuttled out of a pizza place in search of somewhere else to eat. now, don't get me wrong, i'm not expecting 5 star service and over the top friendliness, but for a place that is no doubt swarming with tourists all year round, the staff had no time to talk to us, help us out, or consider that the whole place and processes might be totally alien to us. this continued throughout the week in most food places and every starbucks we visited, and it sucked. i never thought about britain being a polite, friendly, welcoming place until i visited new york, and i felt a bitter sting every time i hear a barista's empty "have a nice day" after handing me my latte.

a couple of days in after adjusting to the alienation and bizarre traffic light system, things began to get a little better. throughout the visit i coupled off with my friend josh, and we visited all the places we decided we'd like to. we found that when visiting quieter areas of manhattan such as chelsea and finding independent book shops and restaurants was when we were at our happiest; no battling with crowds, the staff in places actually spoke to you as though you were a human, and overall, you just had time to stop and think and process what was happening around you. we also headed out to brookyln one night and had a lovely time in a bookshop before grabbing some coffee and speaking to a couple of nice new yorkers who seemed human, not robotic and apathetic like a lot of others we'd encountered. how strange, to stumble upon humans, ey?

it's weird, actually; throughout an interaction designer's speech at a conference, where she was speaking about intelligent fridges and wristwatches and other shit that humans don't actually need but are told that they should need, i trailed off in my own mind about how these designers have lost touch with what it is to be human, and how to actually interact with other humans. one thing she said that particularly shocked me was that as humans, we don't understand when our dogs and babies need things from us, so they were working on some sort of device to help us figure it out. now, don't get me wrong, i don't interact with babies to totally argue against her point, but as a dog owner, i think it's pretty obvious when ziggy wants feeding, walking, belly-rubbing etc, and seeing as humans have been around as long as they have now, i'm also guessing that we understand and know how to deal with babies an adequate amount. how bloody ridiculous. a smile was brought to my face when the next speaker, stephen doyle, came on stage and openly mocked the intelligent fridge idea, to which he proceeded to talk about how he works and what he aims to achieve with it, which is basic human communication which deals with emotions and understanding, not manipulation and marketing. it was refreshing, and provided me with a glimmer of hope for the industry that is graphic design.

high on my to do list was a visit to a bookshop called books of wonder, where in which i could purchase a signed oliver jeffers picture book. i did so, and while in there i half expected to be greeted with smiles and perhaps a conversation with an employee who i'd assume would also be enthusiastic about picture books, but, to my despair, it was the same vacant service i'd received in every other starbucks and mcdonald's. i also visited a children's book exhibition in the new york public library (which was flippin' fantastic, btw) and met the same un-enthused set of employees. on the final day, to test if all of new york was full to the brim with apathetic, vacant drones, we headed into a lush store to see if any conversation was to be found; surely it'd be there if anywhere?! upon entry we were greeted, we were soon chatting with an employee, and 20 minutes later he'd tested some products out on me, we'd chatted about our favourite products, we knew where one another were from and were discussing our favourite alcoholic drinks, and it was in-fucking-credible. the first conversation i'd had with someone where i hadn't come away feeling sad, which was remarkable as earlier in the week the thought, "wow, i'm genuinely happier when no one's talking to me," had crossed my mind. how truly saddening. this genuinely was the highlight of my trip, and man i'm glad i spoke to someone who left me with a little bit of hope for the people of the city.

to conclude, new york just had no time for me, or anyone, it seemed. which is okay i guess, what with new york being all hustle and bustle, and that's just the way it works. upon reflection, i just know that the place is not for me. i'll be honest, it's kind of annoying being the person who comes home from an £800 trip to have near enough nothing nice to say about it, but i found it really, really hard to fake happiness in that city. man, what gets me even more is how i spoke to people on the trip about it and found out they were also a little underwhelmed, however upon them landing back in the uk they quickly uploaded their photographic memories to social media declaring how fantastic the trip was, and i think that sums the city, and the people up perfectly. new york is hyped, totally, and i think people have a hard time dealing with the anti climax that is arriving there, which i guess is fine when you've built yourself up for something fantastic, but it's this perpetuated lie that i think it's the most bitter thing to swallow about the whole experience. i know i'm not alone in not enjoying new york, but i'm pushed to find someone else who's happy to be so brutally honest about their own mediocre experience of the city. it's all lies and brainwashing and sugar coating the shit, and it's annoying. new york annoyed me. i'll not be spending another £800 on a trip back there any time soon, but thank you, new york, for opening my eyes up to how much i appreciate my own country.

p.s.: even your dogs looked sad, new york. give them more belly rubs.
p.p.s.: britain, i'm sorry i ever doubted you.

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